Flotsam and Jetsam and Plastic

In 1999, Charles J Moore was returning home through the Pacific after competing in the Tranpac sailing race, when he came upon a huge area of floating debris.  After alerting an oceanographer of his find, the collection of trash became known as the Eastern Garbage Patch or the Pacific Trash Vortex.

It’s believed that the collection of this debris was formed gradually from constant marine pollution that followed the oceanic currents. It has all gathered together in a relatively stationary area of the North Pacific.  This is referred to as the North Pacific Gyre.  The collection of this debris is believed to be 80% land-based garbage, and 20% from ships and other marine vessels.  The debris is drawn from the coastal waters of North America and Japan.

In 1988 a paper was published by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) predicting that a high concentration of marine debris would be accumulated in certain regions of the oceans controlled by the ocean currents.

It’s difficult to determine the size of the garbage patch as most of it consists of pelagic plastics, chemical waste, and other debris that floats just below the surface.  This makes it impossible to see from the air and most ships and boats cannot detect it.  Determining its size must be done by sampling.  Based off of the sampling data, the size is estimated to be anywhere between 270,000 square miles (the size of Texas) and twice the area of the continental United States.  This is a large margin between its potential size, but recently it was thought that the Pacific Trash Vortex may actually be split into two parts, so this would diminish its size substantially.  But either way, it’s big.

The effects of all this trash, from the microscopic effects, to how we as humans who are eating the marine life coming from the Pacific Ocean, are too exhaustive to list here, but of course they are significant and not good.

So what’s being done about it?  Nothing really.  Since it is not located near any countries’ coastline, no one is taking responsibility for it.  Charles Moore, the man who discovered it, even said that any country that tried to clean it up would go “bankrupt.”  Several international organizations are determined to prevent the garbage patch from growing by preventing further debris from being dumped in the Pacific.

Cleaning up the patch would be monumentally difficult.  Much of the plastics are the same size as the sea animals around it, so simply scooping up the trash would not be realistic.  Estimates say that it would take 67 ships 1 year to clean up less than one percent of the debris.  More awareness is being brought to the garbage patch, though, and efforts to limit and eliminate the use of disposable plastics are helping maintain the growth of further oceanic debris.


Check out more info at National Geographic


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